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John Williamson

Powerchairs & Heat

I get questions about powerchairs and heat causing errors, or the powerchair "slowing down" all the time. Usually by people living in hot places, or when used for sport or if  used in a hilly part of the world.


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Heat in powerchair motors, and heat in the powerchairs "controller" are the reason we get a reduction in power or torque. Or the reason we get an error massage.

What actually gets hot, what causes it, & how can it be stopped?

a) What gets hot?

First of all we need to understand what is actually happening and why. In MOST cases the heat that the powerchairs controller reports as an error, or that causes the chair to slow, is not in the motors, but in the controller. Most powerchairs do not monitor the motors at all.

(a few systems do also monitor the actual motor temperature too, but most do not  as motor temperature isn't really as important provided they can be touched without burning your hand. And its seldom a problem. Its the controller & its electronics that's the real problem)

This CONTROLLER isn't normally the joystick pod in modern high end outdoor powerchairs, but the "brain" box that usually lives under the seat.

b) What causes it?

This controller takes the battery power, (which is big Amps and lots of power on heavy cables), and sends it to the motors in the correct controlled amounts. It is DESIGNED to detect heat to protect itself from damage.

It gets hot because as the "battery Amps" travel through its electronic components (Its power Mosfets) they waste some energy due to resistance. This is wasted as heat.

This "level" of loss/heat is called the controllers efficiency. New (modern) controllers are more efficient than those of a few years ago. They have a lower internal "resistance" so less energy is wasted as heat. 

The more Amps that are being used, such as when on a hill or ramp, grass, turning, or the heavier you are or the harder you WORK the chair, the hotter the controller will get.

Conversely travelling fast in straight lines on a smooth pavement takes very few Amps. The controller isn't working hard here. So speed on the flat does NOT cause a problem normally.

c) How can it be stopped? 

Or more importantly how can you stop the chair slowing, reducing power, or giving error messages?  Well the production of the heat depends on two things. Amps being drawn & controller efficiency.  Stopping the heat means changing one these things then!  (OR better cooling for your controller).

So you need to do some or all of the following!

1. lose weight. Its YOU that is the heaviest component that your poor controller and motors has to push around! The lighter you are the easier time it has. This makes a big difference.

2. Get rid of those awful bone jarring "flat free" tyres. They eat battery amps since they are harder to push than properly inflated pneumatic tyres.  So they cause extra heat, and less range as well as shortened battery life too..

3. Move town or country and go somewhere cooler. Not very practical. But you can move the controller to a position where it sees cooler air, like under the front edge of the seat.

4. Fit a more modern control system like R-Net by PG Controls, or DX2 by Dynamic. These can do more Amps before they reach the same temperature. since they are more "efficient". Or better still fit a much better controller with double that efficiency like this

5. Fit a cooling fan or two (like a couple of computer fans) to blow air over your chairs controller. I see this done on Soccer chairs etc but although it "helps" it doesn't really help that much because surprisingly these controllers have no or very few cooling fins. Why? Beats me. They really need them!

6. Why do they slow down, give error messages at all? Because they are PROGRAMMED to do so. So here's how to fix that...

They are typically programmed to "FOLD BACK" power (Amps) to a lower power state at say 50 degrees C. That's basically a very very hot day and the controller will be almost at this temperature even if it is turned OFF!  Now this is a VERY safe temperature setting. It makes for ultra reliability (no warranty claims) but it is just TOO LOW for sport, hot areas of the world, or anyone with a bit more spirit than the old ladies the manufacturer presumes you are! It of course means that the manufacturer sees less warranty claims though... 

Fortunately then the REAL and easy fix is to simply change that 50C temperature setting to a higher figure. You can do this in programming with a PC program or hand held programmer in all modern powerchairs. Now... I am an animal.  Mine has been set to 70 Centigrade for 13 years of serial abuse. And I just cant make it fail and NEVER get any fold back or power reduction or error messages. If you moved a typical powerchair to say 60 degrees, its doubtful that it would ever damage anything, and the problem of reduced power or "heat" is gone. Of course the possibility of controller frying is marginally increased and your warranty will be voided, if you are the type of person that worries about such stuff.


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